Resilient Communities Abound

By Yasmine Mohammad and Charlotte Estey


As we write this post we are experiencing some post-Redfish withdrawals and reminiscing on all the magical wonderfulness that was Redfish. When we think about our Redfish community, including every person and every being we met along the way, one characteristic stands out in particular – that of resilience. Resilience can be understood as a system’s ability to adapt to or recover from disturbances or stressors. Our immediate community demonstrated resilience when we persevered after being faced with various physical and emotional challenges. Other resilient communities we met with included those of the Bracken ferns and Garry oak camas meadows, which, despite undergoing over a century of colonial disruption, still persist today. What is it about our Redfish community, the Bracken fern, and the Garry oak ecosystems that make them resilient?


To begin, our Redfish community was resilient because it was made up of a network of diverse individuals offering different strengths and taking on a variety of roles, while allowing for some overlap of niches. When a stressor hit, everyone could help in a different capacity, allowing our community to continue on without falling apart. We were also able to adapt to novel or challenging conditions, by taking on slightly different roles and behaviours. If a stressor hit just one individual, someone else could take on their role, allowing that individual to get the rest they needed. It also helped that we all shared a common goal – to learn about and bring about social-ecological change – that helped to keep us connected and care for each other.


After one of the many brilliant plant walk sessions with instructor Brenda Beckwith, our perception of community shifted when Brenda taught us about the large fern genus Bracken, Pteridium. Bracken ferns are commonly viewed as invasive plants, because of the mass amounts of spaces they occupy, and their resilient nature. The taking up of space begins with the large network of the rhizome system beneath the soil. The roots intertwine and connect underground, giving rise to new buds capable of forming individual fronds, the leaflike part of the plant. We can see parallels between this and our Redfish community, where we support each other and work together to spread our knowledge and leadership to each of our individual home communities.


Before a community can radiate outwards, however, it must take care of its own health and needs. The Bracken fern portrays this in the range of toxic chemicals they hold within their tissues, which prevents them from being preyed upon or decaying. When actions are taken to get rid of Bracken fern, such as burning, signals are sent to through the shoots to the deeper growing roots, triggering a growth signal for when the surficial fronds are destroyed. This allows the new fronds to grow and continue living in the space they initially occupied. Not unlike the Bracken fern, resilience within a community arises from the strong and sturdy foundation that continues to build as the roots extend and connect within the soil, retaining the nutrients, water, and knowledge required to continue growing.


 A Bracken fern on Sucia Island.


Our last story of resilience takes place on Sucia Island where we visited Ewing Cove, sat on the coastal bluff under the hot sun, and learned that just over a century ago, this place was perhaps a highly productive Garry oak meadow filled mostly with purple camas and snowberry. The Camassia quamash, or purple camas, is considered a cultural keystone species by many Coast Salish peoples, who, prior to colonization, relied on camas bulbs as a dietary staple.


The Coast Salish peoples cared for these ecosystems and ensured their sustained productivity through management strategies that involved providing small disturbances: cultural prescribed burning and traditional digging of camas bulbs. Prescribed burning helped keep out weedy plants, while providing charcoal for the soil, and digging helped loosen the soil that enabled the bulbs to grow larger.  It became clear that ‘camas and people go hand in hand,’ and that these ecosystems fair best when maintained by those who know how to properly care for them. Colonization has led to the elimination of these important cultural practices for camas meadows through development and neglect and bulbs found today are much smaller now than they used to be.


Camas fields on Mount Tolmie, Victoria, May 2018.


Yet, the camas persists, and we can find hope in its resilience. Camas is so resilient that it was considered by some European settlers to be a noxious weed – it underwent so much disturbance yet kept growing back. Part of what makes camas so resilient is that it has contractile roots that enable the camas to move when conditions are unfavourable. During seasonal drought, the roots will shrink vertically and pull the camas deeper into the soil to protect it from sun and heat. Maybe another reason camas is so resilient is that it has learned to adapt to and persevere with disturbance – just like our Redfish community ☺.


Pictured: Two camas bulbs, one recently dug (and soon to be replanted) and the other, cooked, dried, and ready to eat. We had the privilege of tasting camas bulbs, something that not every Coast Salish person is able to do today. Photo by Shayla Brewer.


Plants – Neighbors

by Lydia Denee-Lee

Plants — a pocket of life, a teacher, a medicine, a home, and an individual. Often plants are viewed as a resource, whether they are used for lumber or to decorate the corners of a concrete world: they are often not seen as individuals but objectified into a monetary value or a measurable worth. Throughout my time at Redfish I was able to be surrounded by others who recognized these diverse beings that make up our world as sentient, and was pushed to learn more about each one we encountered.

Some of their names, stories, and characteristics are stuck in my brain while others were lost along our journeys. Since I have returned home from the islands, I have started looking around the house I have called my home for the past three years and realized how many plants I didn’t recognize. I couldn’t tell you the name of tree I’ve been climbing up for the past two years to get a better peek at the moon, or the interesting flower growing on the outskirts of my basement. These plants have watched me grow as I watched them, but I had yet to introduce myself.

Above you will see a collection of plants that I gathered within a block of my home in the traditional lands of the Lummi and Nooksack Nations (Bellingham, WA). I have tried my best to identify each one of them using what I remember from Redfish, what my family and friends have taught me, previous classes about plants, or my field guide. I want to continue learning the names and the stories of the plants that surround me, and find ways in which I can obtain seeds of plants native to this region and find the best habitats to plant them both in and out of the city.

You will find the leaves or branches from a bigleaf maple, holly, western red cedar and a camellia tree.  There is a branch from what I think is a sitka mountain-ash (orange berries) and a small blackish blue berry that I originally thought was salal, but upon a closer examination of the leaves I am not sure what it is (salal has soft edges around its leaves while this berry branch has some flare around the edges). The skeletons of bluebells and the fresh pickings of brass buttons and visible throughout the collection as well. These plants and I share a home, and have now been properly introduced.


Advice for Future Redfishies

by Katie Kirchhofer

Before we boarded a ferry to Galiano Island and started our month-long journey for Redfish, there was an excellent list telling us what items we needed to bring, an accurate schedule, and an online leadership introduction course. The only thing that we didn’t get that would have been helpful, was a collection of advice from past Redfish School Of Change graduates. So, as of today Redfish 2018 is starting that collection of advice arranged in no particular order:

  • Relax, you are about to enter one of the most supportive spaces that you have ever experienced.  You will be held lightly and appreciated.
  • Bring some form of a pillow, your neck and back will thank you.
  • “Get over your pride and wear sunscreen.”
  • Gluten toots do not smell very good, take digestion into account when meal planning.
  • Avoid buying new things for the program.  It seems necessary to buy camp specific items at the moment, but you may regret that decision.  Thrift shop for it, borrow it, or substitute it, but also check with the teaching team.
  • Field School courses are not campus courses, no need for emotional breakdowns over the grades.  
  • The group is much more flexible than you may originally think. Guests are possible, breaks can happen, the group will do what they can to meet your needs.
  • Huxley Environmental Education Majors: consider not doing Spring Block right before Redfish.
  • Don’t drink untreated water and get a parasite.  You will have to name it. One of us got a parasite named Tristan.
  • Have an idea for you community action project before you come.
  • Step out for personal time when you need it, it is crucial.
  • Bring some of your favorite snacks for comfort.  You won’t have to personally store them.
  • Find shade and move to it when you need that.
  • Enter as deep into the learning as you can, while still doing self care.
  • Keep yourself clean and avoid raging urinary tract infections.
  • Don’t stress so much, you will do what you can but you will be met where you are.
  • Don’t try to conform to what you think others are, diversity is crucial in this program.  We need to have people to be different.
  • Water shoes are key.  
  • Engage with the space you’re in and the community members that you’re with, while you have the chance.
  • Bring up concerns to the group or teaching team so that we can all work through it or make it a time for learning and growth.
  • Make a community contract that you are proud of.
  • Enjoy every moment, it is a fleeting experience, “so suck the marrow out of it.”

Leaders as Hosts through Community Mapping

by Erin Hogan

July 10, 2018. As we prepare to cross over the international border later today, we have to say goodbye to the little home we’ve made on Patricia Bay in North Saanich. We have spent the last six days camping in the backyard of the Rashleigh-Reid family, learning about community-based restoration and ocean conservation and hearing stories and knowledge from WSANEC leaders. This week has provided us with many opportunities to actively practice our own leadership styles and learn from the leadership of those around us.

One of the readings in our Leadership for Community Action course speaks to the idea of leaders being “hosts not heroes”. It is not up to the leader to single-handedly save the world but rather to mobilize the hearts and minds of everyone in our workplace and communities. The hosts who invite and foster participation from all community members are the people who exhibit strong leadership.

Our Redfish community had a wonderful opportunity this week to both literally and figuratively host some visitors at a community mapping event in the Rashleigh-Reids’ yard. The results of the evening would not have been possible without the input and effort of each and every one of us. With our hosts Morgan, Jen, Nina, and Owen’s help we were able to transform our scattered home base into a party space. Decorations were made; pizza toppings were prepared; a mapping station was set up; elixirs were brewed; and a little party hat was even made for our small Redfish mascot, Rudy.

As guests rolled in we had the opportunity to learn from others and get their input on our community mapping endeavors. The theme of this event was ‘water’: we investigated what water can do for us and what we can do for the water within the Salish Sea. It was interesting to bring in people who were not participants in Redfish and see what different perspectives and lenses they could provide. This event was valuable for many reasons. It built upon our growing sense of community within Redfish by providing us with an event to mobilize around and common goals to work towards. It also exposed us to other points of view that we could learn from and incorporate into our own experience moving through the Salish Sea.

The remainder of the evening was spent enjoying delicious wood-fired pizza, dancing to fiddle tunes, and engaging in meaningful conversations. Evenings such as these will be one of the reasons that we will miss our time on the Saanich Peninsula, however, we are all looking forward to bringing our knowledge forward and seeing what the next two weeks will bring.


Meaning in Community

“The meaning that we find in ourselves is a gift that we can share.”

by Kelley Crider

There is a fundamental need for beings to want to be a part of shaping and participating in community, the need for solidarity and support.  The idea of community is tricky though. With so many attributes and characteristics contributing to create a diverse collective, sometimes it is hard to know what is needed to build and maintain community.  

With this, a question is formed, what is community and how is it created?  

Communities are not limited to humans, there are ecosystems that serve other species and beings the same way community is meant to serve us. In my opinion, and what I have experienced throughout the journey of Redfish, is that a community is a group of individual beings who selflessly support, motivate, and act to create positivity. What an individual brings into the community is what helps give purpose and function to community.  

We all look to community for something, whether that is a form of thoughts, taking action to make change, or for support and help, the possibilities of community are endless.

Sometimes we get lost in community, and lose our sense of identity when there is heavy emphasis on acting as a group.  It is important to remember that we are still individuals, who make individual actions, and who have individual thoughts. Sometimes we need to step back, and figure out what we need, who we are, and what is important to us, because that’s what brought us into community in the first place.  The meaning that we find in ourselves is a gift that we can share.

Community acts in different ways to different beings, and there is no right way to “do” community. Community is a diverse network. Community is always there to support and understand. Community is all of us.

The C-O-M-M-U-N-I-T-Y Song

By Shayla Brewer


July 21, 2018. The C-O-M-M-U-N-I-T-Y song was written as a reflection of what community means to me, as well as how my perception of community has expanded over the course of the past month. This song would have never been created if it was not for the love and support of my Redfish community. Putting a song of my own on the internet is very scary, but my community holds me up to be brave and push myself to be the person I want to be. The Redfish community pushed me to explore and share my inner passion for creating tunes. The Salish Sea community inspired me as well by letting me scream my frustration of not finding the right lyrics on to them, the sun setting to let me know it’s time to put the ukulele away to sleep and for the birds, waves, insects and beyond who hummed along with the song. This song was an inkling of a tune and thought along Patricia Bay (North Saanich), it became a solidified tune in Shannon Point (Anacortes), an agglomeration of words at Mount Baker Farms (Orcas Island) and the song was wrapped up and shared along Shallow Bay (Sucia).

There are two recordings attached to this blog post. The first is a recording of just me singing the song, with a lot of nerves and love. The second version is me singing the song for the first time in front of my Redfish community. This version is still full of nerves and love, and a lot of giggles.

The Redfish community on Sucia Islands

Taking Back the Land: a movement in the making on Salt Spring Island

by Jaime Andrews and Kassidy Kelly

July 2, 2018. Greetings readers!

This is Kassidy and Jamie writing to you from Salt Spring Island, where we are hosted by activist and community leader, Joe Akerman. We had the privilege of interviewing Joe to gain insight on his story of the land we are staying on. He knows this place as XWAAQW’UM, a place that is the traditional territory of his ancestors; a place he continues to steward for future generations.

During our stay, we ventured by bicycle down to what is known in the settler community as Burgoyne Bay, which is also part of XWAAQW’UM territory. There, Joe welcomed us and gave us some history about the land, which used to have several longhouses along its shores – a stark contrast to the in-filled shoreline and houseboats on the bay that we experienced. We had the opportunity to take some alone time to venture into the forest that rests at the base of Mount Maxwell. Splitting off from the rest of the group, each student sat in a place embraced by trees, grasses, hedges, fauna friends and ocean waters. We sat in solitude and were united by the energy that pulsed throughout that land. An energy that became clear as we learned about the deep history of this cultural landscape.

At lunchtime, we ventured down to the welcome poles (the only indigenous installments of the area) on the shores of the bay where we sat in a circle joined by activists Briony Penn, Terry Buman, as well as our host Joe Akerman. They spoke about the history of the area and the activism that has surrounded it, including the community rally around preventing the land from being “stripped and flipped” for clearcutting and development – an activism effort that has helped define Salt Spring to the public eye. Now, the land is co-governed by BC Parks and the Cowichan Band, and is a popular recreation area.

Audio 1: Joe Akerman’s thoughts on the activism surrounding the XWAAQW’UM logging proposal by the Texada Land Corporation.

Joe also spoke about the story of Grace Islet, a small ¾ of an acre landmass off the coast from Ganges Harbour in Salt Spring. The site is highly significant for the Coast Salish as it was used as a burial site until 1913 when it was bought by private ownership. In 2014, the landowner decided they were going to develop the property, which became highly controversial as this site was host to multiple burial cairns. In the end, the homeowner was paid $5.45 million by the provincial government on the basis of “the loss of future enjoyment of land.”

Audio 2: Joe Akerman speaking about the fight to protect Grace Islet Coast Salish burial grounds from development.

In speaking with Briony, Terry and Joe, we were transported into the world of environmental activism, which is often in conflict with large corporations set on exploiting the land for their own financial gain. These corporations, as well as private investors, are often positioned advantageously by the policies that are enforced by regulatory bodies backed by our governments. We were inspired by their words which instilled the notion that “direct action backed up by good science, good policy, and good community —that’s what works.”

Furthermore, Briony stressed the importance of political literacy in approaching direct action from a grand scale. That is, it is not enough to simply know something is wrong. We must also understand the political, social, and scientific backgrounds that inform the issue. She noted that “if you are not politically literate, you will be spinning your wheels.” She clarified that if activists don’t fully understand the issue(s) they are fighting for from these multiple scales, they are bound to experience frustration, as their actions may not have the impact they desire. That being said, making an impact also happens in simpler ways —everyone has their own realities and limitations in knowledge, time and ability, and supporting change can be something as simple as bringing muffins to the rally (shout out to Ellie).

In this next interview clip, Joe highlights some of his frustrations with government entities and how their visions don’t always align with community values. Their decisions tend to support the current system structure, which has continued to demonstrate disregard for indigenous communities, while maintaining a seat of power.

Audio 3: Joe Akerman on the politics surrounding the processes of creating change.

In speaking with Joe about his future visions for XWAAQW’UM, we saw a distinct twinkle in his eye. It is apparent that he cares deeply for this land and the community it hosts. It shows in the work he is undertaking, in the values he embodies, and in the dreams he has for this place. He dreams about restoring the longhouses to the shores of the bay, installing a native plant nursery and promoting local food production, building an education center, a vessel and a dock, installing interpretive signage, and bringing youth and elders together in a space of cultural revitalization.

Thank you readers, thank you friends, and thank you family for all your support in making this experience a reality for all of us Redfishies.

Thank you, Joe, for hosting us on your land, for inspiring us all to build upon our own connections to land and community, for sharing your stories, your dreams, and giving us so much to think about moving forward up the stream that is the Redfish School of Change. We really enjoyed our time with you in XWAAQW’UM, and we will carry this experience in our memories and in our hearts.

Your friends,

Jamie and Kassidy   

Currents of Home

by Riley Cameron
The Redfish Community, with our hosts the Rashleigh family in North Saanich, on traditional Tseycum territory.

Home. It is not a place to embody or a commodity with a monetary worth, but rather home is in our primordial connection to life on Earth. For a long time I have wondered where my home was and worried I would never find it without my family. But I’ve found family, in people from across all walks of life, with a collective accountability to what is possible. In constant transition I am awakening with a perception of home that is everywhere, with family all around me.

From the settler colonial perspective, home is property, ever-increasing capital, or natural resources. Physical and mental borders presume to make superficial ownership for humans, elevating us to the status of a single dominant species. The stormy sea of Western society evolved from the idea of home as a place, which is a destructive narrative for non human kinfolk. Joanna Macy describes the dominant worldview as the Industrial Growth Society, which thinks of Earth as merely “supply-house and sewer.” Through meaningful discussion, the Redfish School of Change is realizing the values of land in a context larger than our own lives, and decolonizing place.

As our group has traveled through the Salish Sea I’ve had the opportunity to speak with people from several First Nations, along with local settlers, about the land and their perception of home. In present day northern Saanich we heard from the elder Earl Claxton Jr of Tsawout territory, who spoke of his home in the ceded stories his people hold to the land and the autonomous efforts from surrounding communities acting to reclaim the land from settler society. For the Tsawout people, their central village site and the surrounding land and water were stolen by a historic brick factory. Before it was Tod Inlet, this place was known as SṈIDȻEȽ (pronounced “Sneed-kwith”), meaning Place of the Blue Grouse. By reintroducing native plant species and eelgrass environments, Earl and others are taking big steps that ground his people back to their ancestral roots and decolonize the land. Embedded in Tsawout culture is their reciprocal relationship with the land, and through their language, restoration, and stories passed down from ancestors, the Tsawout are cultivating a restored sense of home in SṈIDȻEȽ. One story Earl spoke of was the creation of the clam, which began from Tsawout families that were shy and didn’t want to be changed by the creator, so they hid in the sand. Out of respect the creator decided the family would grow into clams and live forever in the sand. This was a teaching for all Tsawout people and for that the clams were seen as ancestors and highly respected. For that reason clams contain significant meaning to their meals. This spoken story was followed by a fantastic meal of clams provided by Earl. For me this experience felt like an intimate love was shared with us; through the stories, teachings, and a tasty meal of clams we were guests to the Tsawout peoples’ land, and invited to live what it means to be at home in SṈIDȻEȽ.

The possibilities of home differ from being to being, but the perception is developed from all the relationships of our lives. Experience, stories, and creation autopoetically shape our lives for a home, acting like a shell that we always inhabit. New shells will continue to grow and molt into bigger and broader things, but home is always a part of something that resonates with us. Today my home is within the head scratches, community compassion, and all the awe that the beings of Redfish inspire in each other with tidal currents of love.

When The Tide Goes Out

By: Elise Pullar

Imagine that your home is the Salish Sea. You can swim but have no eyes. You have a ridged white shell for protection. You have the power to turn an irritating piece of sand into a beautiful pearl. You are a clam… but no ordinary clam. You’ve grown up in a carefully tended garden and one day, when you are older, you will be chosen for harvest.

This year, us Redfishies connected with Parks Canada employees Ali and Sky, to take part in clam garden restoration on Russel Island, within the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve. We worked together to collect large stones from the shore and place them onto a wall above the low tide line. This wall allows for sediment to collect behind it, creating perfect clam habitat. Even in its early stages of restoration, this garden was teeming with life. Crabs, jellies and urchins are starting to call this place home. As we waded out to the garden wall, seaweed twisting between our toes, all I could think about were the people who once ate from these waters. It was amazing to learn that a barnacle scar from the original wall was dated and found to be at least 1,000 years old. This place holds inexplainable value and incredibly rich history. This place is and was sacred to local indigenous communities. This was not only their dinner table but their classroom, their gathering place and so much more.  Clam garden restoration has the potential support food sovereignty and return youth to the land. This is true education – intergenerational learning about the traditional harvest practices on the shores that their ancestors tended to.

We also got face-to-shell with the clams, digging deep into the shell hash and screamed out with joy when we discovered clam after clam.

A few years ago, everything I knew about clam gardens came from a classroom or a piece of literature. After working for Parks Canada in Vancouver, my knowledge of this practice grew. But nothing measures up to digging into the shore and grasping a Butter Clam in my hands for the first time. Russel Island is one of the many sites in the Gulf Islands where clam gardens are being restored. The revitalization of this practice has been led by Cowichan and Coast Salish working groups along with Parks Canada. The success of the project is directly related to these long-term relationships with local communities. For meaningful conservation action, there needs to be more time and more money put towards relationship building. Or, timelines need to be flexible in conservation in order to get the job done right, and not just on time.

This Redfish journey feels simultaneously scattered and continuous.  We learn, question, reflect and move along to new spaces. Somehow each experience links to the next. As I sit here looking out at Patricia Bay on Vancouver Island, the clam gardens of Russell Island flicker in my memory. Patricia Bay was historically a bountiful clam harvesting site but over the past 30 years red tide has made clams toxic and unsafe to harvest. Agricultural run-off, sewage and oil pollute these waters. The source of these pollutants needs to be addressed, so that all beings can safely swim in these waters. With a focus on restoration and relationship building across differences, I hope that one day, Patricia Bay will be a vibrant clam harvesting site as it once was.

The Table is Set

By: Christopher Peñuelas

For me the words conservation and restoration bring up a few different emotions. The first emotion that rises to the surface is a sense of happiness and hopefulness that stems from the idea that there are sets of people working to better the ecosystems around us. The problem arises when I try to think more deeply about the impacts of conservation and restoration. While both of these acts have the direct impact of bettering or improving an ecosystem, people rarely think about the impacts on the people that live in that space now and the people who have occupied that land since time immemorial. The negative effects of restoration and conservation can and do outweigh the positives many of the times. By focusing on preserving land, taking back land from people to create ecological systems, or altering ecological systems to best meet “perfection” in the eyes of the current system of power, conservation not only directly displaces people, but also indirectly displaces populations by destroying sources of food, medicine, or education.

The people that these projects tend to displace are the communities that hold less power and privilege in our settler-colonist society. In the case of North America and the Salish Sea in particular these communities are people of color and indigenous groups. These are the communities that are displaced because the people in power are generally white settler colonists who are feeding their projects through a colonial system.

This project as explained so nicely by Elise is a rare example of a project that breaks through this system. It works to not only restore a vital ecosystem but also to restore and return land to people that have been displaced by colonization. This project is based on the reconstruction of clam gardens which are classified as culturally significant food sources. These clam gardens that the Cowichan and Coast Salish groups constructed and managed for hundreds, if not thousands, of years were stolen and neglected during colonization. Having them returned to their people is a huge step in the continuing act that is reconciliation. The importance of Russell Island being inside the Gulf Islands National Preserve lies in the fact that the designation of preserve allows it to be co-managed by First Nations. This allows these First Nation groups to negotiate for more harvesting rights and to retake their land.

The reconstruction and returning of these clam gardens is only a small step in the long process of reconciliation and return of territory. There is a long way to go until people fully understand the impacts of conservation and restoration projects but there are people and places that show that this understanding can be reached.

As we travel on this ship that is Redfish we have spoken to so many amazing people that are doing the work needed to allow the greater public to understand these disparities. We will continue to meet and interact with even more amazing and inspirational people over the next few weeks. My hope is that this essay and others that cover this topic will help you all understand the work that people are doing and the change we hope to make in our futures.

Judith Lyn Arney and PEPAḴIYE Ashley Cooper share a meal of BBQ clams at SṈIDȻEȽ (pronounced ‘sneed-kwith’), a central village site for the Saanich Peoples and a place of traditional clam harvesting.